Updated: Jun 28, 2019
Where do you get your B12? This question is quickly catching up with “where do you get your protein” as one of the most common question we hear about plant based diets. Humans need vitamin B12 for our bodies to make red blood cells, nerves and DNA. It is an essential vitamin that our bodies do not produce. Because our bodies can’t make it, we need to get it from food or supplements. Inadequate B12 intakes can cause various issues such as anaemia and nervous system damage.
Symptoms of B12 deficiency are non-specific, and can include fatigue, weakness and loss of appetite. B12 deficiency symptoms can also include shortness of breath, numbness, and memory problems. Because of the non-specific nature of these symptoms, it is extremely important to be proactive to ensure adequate B12 consumption. You wouldn’t immediately know if you had it, so it’s important to prevent it in the first place!
Contrary to popular belief, B12 is not produced by animals. It is in fact produced by bacteria, and in our modern, sanitised world, many people do not get enough B12 in their diets. Before modern sanitisation, vitamin B12 was naturally and more reliably present in plant foods. Now, I don’t think it is a bad thing that our vegetables are clean and not covered in dirt and poo, but it does mean that we need to give careful thought to our B12 consumption. With modern hygienic practices, and soil being exposed to more antibiotics and pesticides, most plant foods are no longer reliable sources of B12.
While B12 is present in animal products (through the animals consuming the same bacteria that produces B12), animal products are not the best source of B12. There are a number of health issues that have been associated with the consumption of animal products, including heart disease and cancer. It is preferable, both from a health perspective and an environmental perspective (not to mention ethical!), to use a reliable, plant based source of B12. The average adult should get a minimum of 2.4 micrograms of B12 a day.
The best sources of B12 on a plant based diet are:
· fortified nutritional yeast (it tastes a lot nicer than it sounds!);
· fortified plant milks;
· fortified soy products;
· fortified breakfast cereals; and
· B12 supplements.
If you are not taking a B12 supplement, it is important to check the quantity of B12 in the fortified foods you are eating to ensure you are getting enough. It is easy (not to mention, delicious!) to get all the B12 that you need on a plant based diet!